Novells New Linux Friends, Enemies and SCO

 
 
By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2003-11-06 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

eWEEK.com Linux and Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols thinks Novell's Linux move will make it new friends, new enemies and the return of its oldest enemy of all: Microsoft.

What does Novell purchase of SuSE mean for the rest of the enterprise vendors? Without question, it signals that Novell is back in business again.

As its NetWare network operating system (NOS) dropped down to 4 percent market share, Novell had become an afterthought in the enterprise. Novell was left with only its loyal customers and little chance of getting new ones. That was NetWare then; this is Linux now.

The deal also means that Novell is suddenly removed from the leftover drawer of Microsofts refrigerator and is back on the Redmond companys front-burner again. Novell keeps saying that this move isnt really about competing with Microsoft. Yeah, right!

I cant really believe that Novell sees it that way, but I do know one thing: Microsoft wont see it that way. Look for the old network operating wars between Microsoft and Novell to start up again.

Think about it: Microsoft is trying to get its NT and W2K customers to migrate to Server 2003 and a whole slew of application server programs that require Server 2003. Heck, even Office 2003 really needs Server 2003 at the back end to show its stuff. Now, here comes Novell, which also has a complete line of enterprise back office applications, with a hot, popular and cheaper operating system. I think Microsoft has every reason to be worried—seriously worried—about Novell recapturing NOS market share.

Red Hat expresses confidence in public, but in private, its people must be worried. Wouldnt you be? The company finally throws its hat entirely into the enterprise space, leaving individual and SOHO users with the community supported Fedora, only to find that not only is Novell following on its heels, but Novell is supporting an entire desktop to the server stack.

Red Hat VP of Marketing John Young tells me that Red Hat isnt looking to be bought out by a larger company, but I have to wonder if that isnt something that might happen anyway. Red Hat is a big fish in the Linux pond, but in the enterprise operating-system ocean, Red Hat is small fry.

In addition, Ive heard it suggested that companies might try to buy out Red Hat even if its not looking to be bought out.

I dont think Sun (which I dont believe is really interested in Linux anyway); IBM; HP; or Microsoft would play "Lets Make a Linux Deal." But what about Oracle? Larry Ellison is very interested in Linux and is betting his entire companys product line on it. Why not Oracle Red Hat Linux?

IBM, of course, must be as pleased as punch. It will soon own part of Novell, and the Novell brand will open more doors for IBMs Linux programs and eServer line. In addition, Ive heard people suggest that Novell may have enough intellectual-property license rights left to Unix to make it impossible for SCO to win against IBM.

I dont know about that, but I do know that SCO cant like Novells deal one bit. Blake Stowell, SCO director of public relations, tells me: "The intellectual-property issues in Linux are controversial and unsettled. This acquisition raises a lot of questions and means they (Novell) are willing to take on a great deal of risk."

But is Novell really risking anything? It seems to me that, regardless of the truth behind the IP issues, fewer and fewer business people (not just Linux experts) are worrying about SCOs threats.

Ive never thought SCO had much chance in court, and now the firm seems to be losing the public-relations battle that has driven its stock price to insanely high levels. Maybe its time for say SCO to try to find a buyer. Say, for example, its Utah neighbor, Novell?

Sound crazy? Look at SCOs board of directors, which includes several former Novell people. Look at The Canopy Group, the majority owner of SCO and once the majority owner of Novell. If the people who ultimately control SCO decide that they can no longer win in either a PR war or legally against Linux, wouldnt it be better to make a deal with people they already know and trust rather than fight it out to the bitter end?

Of course, all this depends on one thing: Novell executing well. In the past, Novells buy-outs of Unix System Labs (USL) and WordPerfect didnt work out well at all. But that was a different company and a different time.

In the first case, Novell buying Unix just led to in-house fights with its NetWare developers. Today, Novell knows that it cant rely on NetWare for its future. As for WordPerfect, I still dont know what a network operating system company thought it would do with a word-processorline.

Linux, though ... Linux makes sense. If Novell does the job right, and I think it can, Novell will really be back in big business again.

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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